Drivesmart column: Pedestrian visibility at night

Walk to stay alive

By Tim Schewe

I read an article recently about conspicuity for police officers working on the highway. It suggested that the reflective vests and jackets that we use to stand out and be identified by drivers at night were not very effective. A driver had to approach closely when using low beam headlights to see a reflection, and the reflections that were seen did not immediately suggest that what the driver was looking at was a pedestrian.

The problem with low beam headlights is that they initially illuminate the area of a pedestrian’s feet and by the time they reach the mid and upper body, it is too late for the driver to react to what they are seeing.

Tests in a driving simulator produced an even more surprising result. Sixty per cent of drivers who were warned that a pedestrian would appear during the simulation failed to see them on the roadway in time to avoid colliding with them. Often drivers report that the first indication that they had of a pedestrian being present on the highway is when they heard the sound of the collision with them.

Looking at the view from the pedestrian’s perspective, researchers found that pedestrians all felt that they were more visible to drivers than they actually were.

From Neil Arason’s book No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads:

“An Australian study found that drivers noticed only 5 percent of plain-clothed pedestrians in the most challenging conditions (low beams, black clothing, glare), whereas they recognized 100 percent of pedestrians who wore reflective clothing in areas where their body moved.”

The bottom line? If you are a pedestrian on the highway at night, wear something light colored with reflective markings in the places that your body moves such as wrists and ankles. Biological motion is very effective protection.

Use the sidewalk, or if a sidewalk is not present, stay as far to the left of the roadway as possible. These rules cover all pedestrians in British Columbia.

Never cross the highway unless you can clear the travelled portion well before the approching vehicle nears you unless you are certain that the driver will stop. Better still, wait until the driver sees you and has stopped.

If you are a driver that is purchasing a new vehicle, consider one with forward collision warning or automatic emergency braking. These systems, properly used and maintained will help you avoid crashes.

Walk to stay alive. Regardless of being right or wrong in terms of right of way, the pedestrian is always the loser in a collision.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca

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